This ride has been on the “Bike It List” for a good, long while now. It’s weird how the rides closest to home sometimes take the longest to tackle. Kernville is only 3 hours or so from Mammoth. It’s kind of like living in Hollywood and never making it to Universal Studios. So, this summer, as I went through my list, I put a big exclamation point next to one of the first IMBA Epics. It was time to conquer the Cannell Trail.
A week before the planned trip, my buddy Ted got in the mix, and it became a two-person crew instead of a solo mission. Ted, along with myself and three others, is a Founding Board Member of SEMBA (Sierra Eastside Mountain Bike Association). We figured this would be a great scout trip for possibly rallying a group together next Summer. It’s always fab to ride bikes with friends… and share gas. Ted was familiar with the area, as he’d done some crazy adventure racing on roughly the same route. The weekend we wound up going, just happened to be “Shuttlefest”, and Mountain & River Adventures was running shuttles to Cannell and Just Outstanding all weekend long, and there were lots of mtb’ers lurking around.
After getting to town and scoping the free camp spots, we headed over to the Kern River Brewing Company for dinner time grubs and suds. Super tasty pulled pork tacos were accompanied by a flight of equally tasty beer offerings. That’s the way to start an adventure. Our bellies were happy, and the stoke level super high. As expected, just after setting up my bivy, it started to rain. It transformed into a magical lightning show. The numerous strikes were diffused behind cloud cover and every hit illuminated what seemed like the whole world for a split second with soft, radiant light. It continued to trickle and drizzle through most of the night, so sleep was a little tough, but it was another great test on my bivy sack which kept me warm and dry. I got up at 3am for a piss, and the stars were out and skies clear. One of those “ah yes” moments, looking up at the beauty and wonder while relieving myself.
Anyhoo, after a couple more hours of restless sleep, it was finally go time! Packed up camp and headed over to Mountain & River to catch our shuttle. After a nice long van ride with stinky, hungover brethren, we finally made it! Grabbed the bike off the rack, and oh crap – back tire was completely flat. A little concerning. Asked the van driver for a floor pump, nada. Instead of taking a bunch of time to pump it, I pulled out a 16g co2 cartridge. It was still leaking before I finally realized my tubeless valve stem was loose. It must’ve gotten bumped during the ride up. Luckily, I tightened it, and it held air. I was still nervous though, as I only had a 20g cartridge left, and my pump was not working well on schrader valves (the Stans Hugo rims are the only schrader valve wheels I own, and my pump is usually relegated to presta duty). Not the most confidence inspiring way to start a 30 mile epic ride. But the tire held up the whole time, with about 12psi in it. I never used the 20g, but I liked having it available just in case.
Ted and I decided to first climb up to the top of Sherman Peak, which adds some steep, technical climbing to the beginning of the ride (gaining 700′ over 2.5 miles). We figured we’d come this far, might as well hit the high point of the area and tack on an extra 5 miles. Well… by the time we got near the top, at 9,900′ it was snowing pretty heavy, and we were freezing and wet. I knew Ted was cussing me under his breath as we pushed our bikes to the top (I later confirmed this). But hey, we hit the summit and then mashed down as quickly as possible to our starting point – where all the smart folks left us over an hour earlier. Unfortunately, while blasting down the descent, I went over the bars and slightly bent my front rim. I tried my best to field true it, but it still rubbed slightly on my fork for the whole ride. Crazy – not one mechanical in the last 1,000 or so miles on this bike, and then two within an hour. Oh well. Let’s ride.
Cannell is awesome. So much different trail character as you change elevation from over 9,000′ to a mere 2,700′ as you reach the river by ride’s end. Trippy climate change too… from a lush, foresty, wet roots, rock gardens vibe to flowy velcro, butter smooth singletrack… descend for a bit, then climb for a bit, up and down, up and down… then you hit this wild area that looks like Stonehenge. A great spot for freeriding some big boulders and such.
There’s a long fire road climb and a couple steep ups on moto trails, but every up is rewarded with a more than generous helping of down… and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out there’s a lot of down to be had. Finally, the clouds burned off and when we hit the “plunge” portion of the ride, the skies opened up for us as we hit the most memorable portion of the adventure. Boom, you drop 4,400′ over the last 7.5 miles – So sick!! The views are breathtaking!! Brake pads be warned… I had a new front, but my warn rear pad was howling at the moon by the bottom… All in all, including the summit of Sherman Peak, our ride was about 30 miles with 3,100′ climbing and 8,000′ descending. Yahoo! Here’s the Strava link if you wanna check it out.
Overall, totally worthy of epic status. Reminds me a lot of the Whole Enchilada in Moab. Such varied terrain and geography with a huge payoff at the end. Looking forward to returning with a SEMBA group and camping for a few days and riding more of the local trails like Just Outstanding, etc. Hoot!!